A year ago I listed Cormac McCarthy as one of the five overrated writers of 2006. This was just a couple of months before McCarthy's The Road was published, and I had no idea what agonies lay in store.
I am simply baffled, just straight out bewildered, by the fact that so many people whose opinions I respect -- Oprah Winfrey, the numerous Morning News Tournament of Books judges, even my friend Jeff Bryant (who I usually agree with, and who shares my love for Kerouac and Bukowski) -- are calling Cormac McCarthy a great writer and The Road a masterpiece. I certainly can't believe that all these smart people are wrong and I am right -- yet at the same time I have made every honest effort to understand what I am missing. I even bought The Road, intending to give it a fair read, a fresh start, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this will be the Cormac McCarthy novel I can finally stand.
1. A Supermarket in California - Allen Ginsberg
Published in 1732, Jonathan Swift's poem, "The Lady's Dressing Room" (full text) follows a man, Strephon, as he goes through the unoccupied room of a woman named Celia (which means that he's an 18th century medicine-cabinet-snoop) and discovers that, though lovely in public, in private she's pretty much a disgusting pig:
And first a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the arm-pits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
And swears how damnably the men lie
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.
Now listen while he next produces
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt.
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon't
To smooth the wrinkles on her front.
I attended an interesting display of speed poetry last night at the Strand Bookstore in Greenwich Village, New York featuring two acclaimed practitioners of the verse form, Paul Muldoon and Brad Leithauser. An eager audience of literati, blogerati and peoplorati had gathered to watch, quietly munching on grapes and cheese or sipping wine, as the two poets nervously typed into laptops connected to QuickMuse.com. The odd experiment made for a good evening of spoken word, and the finished poems aren't bad at all.
1. Here are the most useless three sentences in the world:
"At the tone, please leave your message. When you finish you may hang up, or press one for more options. To leave a callback number, press five."
This article is part of the PEN World Voices series. The next post in the series is PEN World Voices: Words Without Borders at Columbia University. The previous post in the series is PEN World Voices: Bulgarian Coda.
This article is part of the PEN World Voices series. The next post in the series is PEN World Voices: Saturday Night Spoken Word. The previous post in the series is PEN World Voices: Words Without Borders at Columbia University.
This article is part of the PEN World Voices series. The next post in the series is PEN World Voices: J.M.G. Le Clezio in Conversation with Adam Gopnik . The previous post in the series is PEN World Voices: The Africa Track.